Women's Voluntary Services (WVS) Canada

Women's Voluntary Services (WVS) Canada

Women's Voluntary Services (WVS) Canada.  The WVS  was an organization instituted in 1938 and dedicated to providing much-needed war time relief efforts for civilian victims who had been evacuated or lost their homes. Based on a British model, the WVS served from 1938 to 1966 as a voluntary organization concerned with helping people in need and to help in the event of War.   The WVS collected and distributed clothing from all over the world.  In total over twenty million garments were distributed.  The organization worked with the American and Canadian Red Cross to provide this relief.  Between 1941 and 1945 the WVS collected three million garments, 85,000 sheets and bedding, 86,000 blankets, 350,000 quilts, 16,000 boots and shoes and 262 tons of jam from generous Canadians through the Canadian Red Cross.  In addition, the WVS’s 12,000 volunteers collected money to purchase clothing and other garments.

(EMEDALS.com Photo)

Women's Volunteer Services Canada pin.

When Canada declared war in 1939, women felt obligated to help the fight.  In October 1938, the Women’s Volunteer Service was established in Victoria, British Columbia.  A recruitment event was held in hopes of gaining around 20 new volunteers; over 100 women arrived to join the efforts.  Shortly after, more British Columbian women felt the need to do their part, and when the 13 corps joined together the BC Women’s Service Corps was created.  Soon after, all the other Canadian provinces and territories followed suit and similar volunteer groups emerged.  

In addition to the Red Cross, several volunteer corps had designed themselves after auxiliary groups from Britain.  These corps had uniforms, marching drills and a few had rifle training.  It soon became clear, that a unified governing system would be beneficial to the corps.  The volunteers in British Columbia donated $2 each to pay the expenses so a representative could talk to politicians in Ottawa.  Although all of the politicians appeared sympathetic to the cause, it remained 'premature' in terms of national necessity.

Canada was later in granting this permission than the rest of the Commonwealth.  The British Mechanized Transport Corps had begun to see the women of Canada as a great asset to the war effort and began to look into the recruitment of these women for their purposes.  In June 1941, they were officially given permission to recruit women in Canada for overseas duty.  It quickly became apparent that it would look very odd for the British to be recruiting in Canada when there was no corresponding Canadian service.  However, many of the women who were active in the various volunteer corps did not meet the requirements to be enlisted women.  The majority of these women were older than the accepted age, would not pass the fitness test, or had physical or medical impairments.  It was quickly realized that the women needed had jobs and were not free to join.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3382383)

Women's Voluntary Service assistant helping children with pasting at day nursery in the Givens Street School, Toronto, Ontario, February 1943.  Not the armband.

Women's participation on the home front was essential to the war effort.  The largest contribution by the majority of Canadian women was through unpaid volunteer work, through their domestic abilities and skills; women were able to support the nation and the war effort.  The government called upon women to participate in volunteer programs.  Women began collecting recycled items such as paper, metal, fat, bones, rags, rubber, and glass.  Clothing was also collected by Canadian women for free distribution overseas.  They also prepared care packages to send to the men and women overseas. Canadian women were responsible for maintaining the morale of the nation.  All over Canada, women responded to demands made upon them by not only selling war savings stamps and certificates but purchasing them as well, and collecting money to buy bombers and mobile canteens.